Books with Voice by Maria T. Lennon
I write books about twelve year-olds. The biggest challenge in writing the books is VOICE. I want the voices to sound so real you can see them talking. Lucky for me I have two things going for me:
- I have four kids of my own. Two boys and two girls ranging in ages from kindergarten all the way through high school. I get a lot from them.
- I read an awful lot of middle-grade fiction.
My last editor, the generous Phoebe Yeh, used to send us boxes of books to read. New releases, advanced readers copies, you name it. Some were for the girls. Some for the boys and some were just for me. It was like Christmas when those boxes arrived.
I’d scan each and every one of them. The look and feel of the text. The length of the book. And then the all-important first paragraph.
It’s not action I’m looking for. It’s not a car speeding through a small town crashing into gas stations and schools. Action like that means little unless we know who’s in the car. Or who’s in the station.
It’s voice. Voice is everything.
It’s what draws me in to a story, what sustains me through the dips and dives, the lulls of descriptive paragraphs.
So here are few examples of Great Voice:
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.”
(Chapter One, Book One of the Epically Fantastic Hunger Games by the Great Suzanne Collins.)
Can you feel it? The tension? The dread? The end of days? And yet the protagonist has power. I loved it from the start
First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.
***HERE IS A SMALL FACT ***You are going to die.
I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.
***Reaction to the ***AFOREMENTIONED fact. Does this worry you? I urge you–don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair.”
Now is that powerful or what? I FELL in love with this voice the moment it resonated through my brain. It belongs to none other than death. He is the narrator of the amazing BOOK THEIF written by none other than Markus Zusak. Phenomenal.
I read that when he finished the original manuscript, the book simply did not work. He didn’t know what to do. It fell flat. Was awful. Heartbreaking. And then he came up with DEATH as the narrator.
And finally, one of the all-time best examples of voice you’ll ever hear. This book is ALWAYS on my nightstand:
See if you recognize the text:
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”
Yep, the great Lolita by Vlad Nabokov
There are more that I would love to list here, but I don’t want to get too long and boring. Because that’s the kiss of death.
Share your own examples of books that showcase great voice in the comments.
Maria T. Lennon is a graduate of the London School of Economics, a novelist, and a screenwriter. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.
Read is the spot to share your book recommendations, reviews, lists of absolute favorites, and thoughts on anything reading or writing related in general. Share yours here.
Banned Books Week runs September 25-October 1st and highlights the freedom ..
For Katniss Everdeen, life has been a whirlwind of struggle, ..
I always have the best intentions to read what’s new ..
The latest edition of Book’d in Burbank, a social gathering ..
This fall looks like a big one for books-to-movies. Here ..
Sometimes, you just need a good cry. And there’s nothing ..